Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the resident freemen paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

less than 40


13 Apr. 1754Thomas Orby Hunter 
 Arnold Nesbitt 
8 Dec. 1756Hunter re-elected after appointment to office 
6 July 1757Hunter re-elected after appointment to office 
26 Jan. 1759George Gray vice Hunter, appointed to office 
5 Apr. 1760Thomas Orby Hunter vice Gray, vacated his seat 
27 Mar. 1761Percy Wyndham O'Brien, Earl of Thomond 
 Thomas Orby Hunter 
4 Dec. 1761Thomas Sewell vice Thomond, appointed to office 
23 Apr. 1763Hunter re-elected after appointment to office 
15 Jan. 1765Sewell re-elected after appointment to office 
19 Mar. 1768Thomas Orby Hunter23
 Percy Wyndham O'Brien, Earl of Thomond23
 Sir Thomas Sewell8
 Richard Phillipson8
15 Jan. 1770Arnold Nesbitt vice Hunter, deceased 
13 Aug. 1774William Nedham vice Thomond, deceased 
10 Oct. 1774Arnold Nesbitt 
 Charles Wolfran Cornwall 
3 Jan. 1775William Nedham vice Nesbitt, chose to sit for Cricklade 
9 Sept. 1780Charles Wolfran Cornwall 
 John Nesbitt 
1 Apr. 1784John Nesbitt 
 William Nedham 

Main Article

About 1754 Winchelsea was usually counted as a Treasury borough, but it was never as safe as Rye or Hastings. About half its electorate lived outside the town (the legal requirement of residence was ignored) and only a handful held places under Government. Its manager was Edwin Wardroper, who had been concerned in Winchelsea affairs since before 1739.

For some time before 1754 William Belchier, a wealthy London banker, had been buying property around Winchelsea and had acquired an interest in the borough. To combat Belchier, Henry Pelham encouraged Arnold Nesbitt, who had an estate near Winchelsea, to stand for the borough at the general election of 1754. The other candidate, Thomas Orby Hunter, was a Treasury nominee.

Belchier went bankrupt in 1760, and his property was sold to Lord Egremont; who informed Newcastle that he proposed to put up his brother, Lord Thomond, for Winchelsea at the forthcoming general election. There were now three candidates—Hunter, Nesbitt, and Thomond—all clamouring for Newcastle’s support. The Duke was persuaded by Bute to support Hunter, and bullied by Egremont into supporting Thomond. Nesbitt, left out in the cold, tried to win over Wardroper; who, however, made his bargain with Egremont. Nesbitt then submitted, and Hunter and Thomond were returned unopposed. Thomond made his election for Minehead, where he had also been returned; and was replaced at Winchelsea by a Treasury nominee.

After Newcastle’s resignation, Wardroper adhered to Egremont and the new Treasury. Nesbitt remained faithful to Newcastle, and his interest at Winchelsea suffered in consequence. In 1765 Newcastle secured the reinstatement of Nesbitt’s friends who had been dismissed by Grenville, but did not rate his chance in the borough very highly. ‘Your friend Nesbitt’, he wrote to Rockingham on 23 Sept. 1765,1 ‘can never carry Winchelsea for both Members, if for one, whilst Wardroper remains in office.’ At the mayoral election of 1766 Wardroper carried his candidate by 17 votes to 7;2 and legal action to disfranchise a group of his supporters failed.

By the time the general election of 1768 approached, the situation had changed. Hunter and Thomond were in opposition with Grenville, while Nesbitt supported the Chatham Administration. Everything depended on Wardroper; and on 13 Nov. 1767 Thomond reported to Grenville a conversation with him:3

He began by saying that the Duke of Garthon had sent for him, and told him he looked upon Winchelsea as a Government borough, and that he meant to recommend two Members, one of which was Nesbitt. Upon that he, Wardroper, answered by telling the connexions he had and the engagements he lay under, and assuring him that he had twenty votes and the adversaries but seven. The Duke said that did not signify, for that there would undoubtedly be a petition. He complained then to me of the expense he had already been put to, the danger he was in of his people quitting him, as they had been offered to be restored, and that the further expense of the election and then a petition would probably undo him, all which he thought proper to lay before me.

Thomond urged him to stand by the Egremont interest; ‘he then shuffled a great deal’, said ‘that he thought Government would be too strong for him, that he would do his utmost, but must not be blamed if the thing failed’. ‘Thus we parted’, concluded Thomond, ‘... he not daring to deny his promise nor that he could carry it into execution, and reserving to himself ... an excuse for betraying us if he shall choose it.’

However, Wardroper, proved firm on the day of trial, and Nesbitt’s candidates were soundly defeated. But all was not yet over: a petition was threatened, and before it could be heard Nesbitt won two actions against Wardroper at the Sussex assizes. The unlucky Wardroper now became bankrupt; and Thomond and Hunter began again to suspect his fidelity. After a conversation with Wardroper and his son, Thomond reported to Grenville on 1 Oct. 1768: ‘the result was that they could not be of any service, except we immediately advanced them £5,000’. But they agreed to hand over to Thomond the corporation books, and promised that they would give no help to Nesbitt. Thomond set about rounding up votes in the House of Commons, and secured a promise of support from the Rockinghams; and Nesbitt, probably deterred by these proceedings, withdrew his petition.

It was the end of Wardroper at Winchelsea, and also of the Egremont interest. On Hunter’s death in 1769 Nesbitt was returned without opposition; and in 1774 and 1780 the Nesbitt interest and Government shared the borough (John Nesbitt had succeeded his uncle in 1779).

Crewe’s Act of 1782 considerably reduced the number of voters (according to Oldfield, in 1792 there were only three), and broke the Government interest. Robinson wrote in his survey for the general election of 1784:

This borough is now, it is feared, in a bad state indeed, and scarce any good voters in it. It was on a compromise between Government and Nesbitt, and the Speaker [Charles Wolfran Cornwall] was brought in at a very trifling expense and some annual payments ... This borough has been so much neglected for near two years past, that it is scarce known in what situation it stands until it is again examined. However, as Nesbitt is somewhat hampered and wishes to be with Administration, it is thought with attention it may be got right again and made pro, though probably with some bustle and expense.

‘Measures were taken for Winchelsea’, wrote George Rose to Robinson on 31 Mar. 1784,4 ‘but were defeated by the people there deserting their own cause.’ Nesbitt and Nedham, both opponents of Pitt, were returned.

Shortly before the general election of 1790 Nesbitt sold his property at Winchelsea to Lord Darlington and Richard Barwell.

Author: John Brooke


M. Cramp, ‘Parlty. Rep. Five Suss. Boroughs, 1754-68’ (Manchester Univ. M.A. thesis).

  • 1. Add. 32970, f. 17.
  • 2. Add. 33059, ff. 48-49.
  • 3. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 4. Laprade, 120.